I had the great pleasure last night of hearing one of my favorite authors speak - George Saunders - and then, even better, to chat with him for a few delightful minutes - thanking him for helping inspire me to really push my work as I finished my thesis of stories recently - before he signed my copy of his new book, the brilliantly funny In Persuasian Nation. He autographed it with a silly doodle. I told him I'd just convinced a semi-tipsy guy (did I mention they were offering free beer?) why he should buy one of Saunders books. When asked to explain Saunders' writing, I said a few things about how he writes darkly funny stories satirizing American culture and the media, and so on, before finally coming to the conclusion, "You know what, just buy his books and read his work. It defies description."
In Persuasian Nation defies description in many ways, but it is definitely riotously funny. It's also, as with much of Saunders' work, disturbing. The titular story about advertising characters that battle for freedom from their cruel, repetitive existences is a pointed jab at the modern ad age and our own brainwashing by it. The lengthy, unforgettable story, "Brad Carrigan, American," [excerpt on Harper's]
which may be the best piece in the collection, takes aim at reality shows, and a parallel universe, or near-future, version of the sick world they've created - replete with talking, sympathetic corpses and fake Indian chiefs. Another story is a sci-fi-ish tale in which teens have lived their lives in a product testing "camp" that have to choose between that cushy, but unreal life, and the world outside the fence; this, as with much of Saunders' best pieces, surprises the reader by being as poignant as it is humorous and disturbing.
But again, no point in describing his work. There is only this: Read it for yourself.